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April 19th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments



The EU Remembers Eastern Europe

by Joseph Linstroth

Blog entry for April 6, 2009

The agreement among European Union members over an assistance package for struggling member-states in Eastern Europe was largely overshadowed in the media by the G20 Summit in London last week. But it is worth highlighting because the EU did the right thing, despite reluctance from some of Europe’s richer countries, most notably France and Germany. The new agreement will increase the EU’s commitment to the International Monetary Fund, and double a crisis fund from 25 billion to 50 billion Euros that is available to all EU members who have not adopted the Euro as currency.  Latvia and Hungary have already received billions in stimulus aid, and Romania was recently approved to receive 20 billion Euros, with five billion from the EU.

This shift towards a willingness to help seems to show that the EU’s wealthier countries have realized, however reluctantly, that they have some responsibility to assist their poorer neighbors. Prior to the global financial downturn, the influx of new EU members from Eastern and Central Europe in 2004 and Bulgaria and Romania in 2007 provided a boon to Western European economies. The image of the “Polish plumber” became a symbol of the larger EU, as many residents from the newer and poorer EU nations migrated west to fill the labor gaps created by the economic growth in Western Europe – a growth fueled, in part, by their countries’ inclusion into the EU. The expansion also opened up large markets for Western European banks, real estate developers and retail corporations. But now that the profits have dried up, the earlier reluctance on the part of wealthier EU nations to resist this agreement made it appear as though they no longer had any economic use for their poorer allies and were attempting to wash their hands of any responsibility.

In the long run, EU membership will surely benefit the poorer Eastern European members. However, from my experience traveling in Bulgaria last summer, it appears the short-term gains are largely going to western European countries. Austrian banks and French and German retail stores have popped up all across Bulgaria. While these businesses have provided more variety in terms of sources for capital and quality goods, they have also driven up the cost of living, as wages and pensions have struggled to keep pace. No doubt these companies provide some jobs and additional tax revenue, but the real profits, and their subsequent benefits, are experienced elsewhere to the west.

The poorer EU nations will catch up eventually. In the meantime, these countries lack the proven “safety nets” that the Western European countries have been so quick to highlight at the G20 Summit. As the world weathers the financial crisis, and as the poorer nations of Eastern Europe weather the growing pains of EU integration, the EU’s wealthier nations have the responsibility to tighten the safety net underneath all members, instead of only looking out for themselves when times get rough.


(See also Bulgarians In Chicago page)

City Council Hears Opposition to Proposed Immigration Resolution

by Joseph Linstroth

Published on January 23, 2008 by the Evanston RoundTable

Residents from Evanston, Chicago, and Oak Park voiced their opposition to the proposed immigration resolution at the Jan. 14 City Council meeting.

Rosanna Pulido, a Chicago resident and field representative for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), was among those who raised objections to the resolution at the session. “I am bewildered when I look at the resolution,” she told the RoundTable. “They are all pretty much feel-good arguments.”

Included in the specifics of the resolution is the prohibition of all city entities from disclosing information regarding citizenship status and police inquiries into a person’s status where it is not required by law. Cook County and the city of Chicago have already adopted similar resolutions.

If approved by the council, the resolution, which calls for the “humane and just treatment of undocumented persons,” would make Evanston a “sanctuary city.” It is a label that would, Pulido said, “offer the red carpet” to undocumented persons seeking refuge from Federal immigration laws.

Though a Chicago resident, Pulido opposes the Evanston resolution because, she said, “Evanston is not in a vacuum. What Evanston does directly affects me.”

Pulido claims the resolution is an “intimidation tactic” because the restrictions “tie the hands of the police officers.” As a former police dispatcher, she said she understands firsthand the danger posed to officers by persons without proper documentation. “The traffic stop is the most dangerous act for a police officer,” she said. If the driver lacks proper identification, she added, the police officer cannot run the proper background checks to determine if the driver poses a threat to the officer’s safety.

Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington seemed to find the argument unconvincing. “I don’t think [the resolution] encumbers us in any way in doing what we need to do to service the community,” he told the RoundTable. “If you are doing something criminal, we’ll address that regardless of immigration status.”

Chief Eddington said there are alternatives for a police officer to determine a person’s identity, including fingerprints and searching the computer databases. “At the end of the day, it’s no different from anyone else who doesn’t have ID,” he said.

An additional concern for some who oppose the resolution is that it would be more detrimental to the security of Evanston’s undocumented persons by attracting undo attention from the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Alderman Edmund Moran (6th Ward) said he spoke with law enforcement officials about this issue as he was helping to draft the resolution. “My own sense is that is not going to be the case,” he said. “Evanston demographics are such that immigrant populations would not become a target for ICE. We don’t have large plants, or places where ICE can do big sweeps.”

Chief Eddington agreed that ICE posed little threat to Evanston’s undocumented population. “Even if I decided we should start arresting illegal immigrants,” he said, “ICE won’t take them without an additional violation that they are interested in.”

But the main thrust of the opposition seems to center around whether the resolution is a violation of federal law.

Pulido said the resolution amounts to “aiding and abetting illegal immigrants,” which is a direct violation of federal law. To examine the specific legal questions, Pulido forwarded a copy of the resolution to the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), a Washington D.C.-based public interest law firm which, according to its website, is “devoted exclusively to protecting the rights and interests of United States citizens in immigration-related matters.”

Bob Dane, press secretary for IRLI, told the RoundTable, “It is our argument that in the absence of the federal government enforcing the laws, and given that the harmful effects [of having undocumented persons in the community] fall on local jurisdictions, it is fundamentally unfair to make them enforce resolutions [like the one Evanston is proposing.]”

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin (13th District), who is running for Cook County State’s Attorney, said, “There is no federal law here,” adding that the United States Congress has not mandated that local governments address matters related to immigration. “I do not believe our [local] governments should do the work of the Federal government,” he told the RoundTable.

The role of local government in immigration enforcement is a legal conundrum that has yet to be resolved by the courts. Dane cited the example of one community, Hazleton, Penn., that took immigration enforcement into its own hands as a “common sense reaction of a city reacting to where the Federal government is failing.” Hazleton passed an ordinance in July 2006 which made it illegal to rent to or hire undocumented immigrants. In July 2007 a federal judge ruled the ordinance unconstitutional because it preempted federal law. “A lot of it is uncharted territory and we’re expecting that most of the appeals [will modify the original ruling].”

It seems, however, that such a modification that would clear the way for ordinances like Hazleton’s would also conversely provide legal support for local governments to pass resolutions similar to Evanston’s. “The court may intervene on that, but I think the will of the people will ultimately prevail,” said Dane.

The Human Services Committee plans to resume discussion on the proposal at its Feb. 8 meeting.



A Film Review by Joseph Linstroth

Published on March 30, 2010 by the Evanston RoundTable

Noah Baumbach’s “Greenberg” is not for everyone. Those looking for computer-enhanced other worlds or raucous shenanigans with ensuing laughter should avoid this drama, which stars Ben Stiller at his best. Instead, the “unobtanium” in this excellent character study comes in the form of plain old unfulfilled dreams, long since vaporized, leaving behind the impure byproduct of reality to fuel lives that did not go as planned.

Recovering from a nervous breakdown, Roger Greenberg (Mr. Stiller) returns to Los Angeles, where he grew up, to house-sit for his more successful brother. His goals while in L.A. are to build a doghouse for his brother’s German Shepherd and to generally do as little as possible. He pounds pills and low-balls of whiskey while firing off angry letters to American Airlines and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, to name a few. The years of self-criticism have left him with an unbecoming tendency to turn it outward on everything from a faulty airline seat to Manhattan’s noise pollution.

Greenberg tries to reconnect with some old friends, all in their forties, including his ex-band mate Ivan (Rhys Ifans). The scruffy Brit was once the epitome of cool but now fixes computers, has an 8-year-old son and lives in a motel while his marriage undergoes a “trial separation.” They had a record deal back in the day, but it blew up when Greenberg refused to compromise his artistic freedom – a mistake that has left them grasping for meaning elsewhere ever since.

Shortly after the band dissolved, Greenberg moved across the country, where he became a carpenter and was seemingly free of any witness to his unfulfilled potential. He got his wish – no one calls him on his birthday anymore.

The only person Greenberg is able to somewhat connect with is Florence (newcomer Greta Gerwig), his brother’s 25-year-old nanny. An aspiring singer herself, Florence is as friendly and understanding as Greenberg is misanthropic. But she too is lost. She cannot believe she has been out of college for as long as she was in, as if contentment and success should have come by now. Through fits and starts, their shared unease with life draws them close.

As in his excellent 2005 film “The Squid and the Whale,” writer and director Noah Baumbach again demonstrates his knack for mining humor and angst out of the disappointing lives of intelligent people who are drowning in self-awareness. Mr. Baumbach has a pitch-perfect ear for the way people really speak, but it is his use of silence in “Greenberg” that reveals him to be a remarkable humanist. Repeatedly, the characters bathe in the awkwardness of not knowing what to say, and the unsaid becomes just as revealing, if not more so, than any expository dialogue or backstory.

“Greenberg” lacks a traditional plot arc that culminates with a tidy denouement. And there are fewer laughs than most would expect from a movie starring Ben Stiller. Instead, “Greenberg” is an honest portrayal of life’s complexities and disappointments, perhaps offering viewers a chance to see a bit of their own experience depicted onscreen. And such resonance is what moves films like “Greenberg” away from being mere escape and closer to art.

“There Will Be Blood”

A Film Review by Joseph Linstroth

Published on January 8, 2008 by the Evanston RoundTable

In what was already a strong year for movies, 2007 saved one of the best for last with the highly anticipated release of “There Will Be Blood,” writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson’s first feature film in almost five years.

Those familiar with Anderson’s previous work – “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” and “Punch Drunk Love” – will recognize the themes of corrupted, troubled souls and tenuous family bonds in this sprawling epic, loosely based on Upton Sinclair’s novel “Oil!.”

Mr. Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, a silver miner who, at the turn of the century, manages to pick and dynamite his way into the burgeoning oil business. By the time he utters his first words, nearly twenty minutes into the film, it is clear Daniel Plainview is consumed by hard work and greed.

Pitching his services to small towns, Plainview sounds like a traveling quack.  In place of snake-oils and tonics, he offers wealth and civic improvement to naive townsfolk unable to comprehend the riches that lie beneath their ranches and farms.

Plainview totes around a pre-adolescent boy he took in as a baby with the dubious intention of adding legitimacy to his charming facade.   “I have the bond of family that very few oilmen can understand,” he tells one Texas town inquiring about his services.

When Plainview and his son receive a tip from a stranger (Paul Dano) about oil oozing from the man’s family ranch in California, they head west.  Before long, the dusty California town of New Boston is inundated with oil derricks and giddy with the prospect of economic growth.

The town’s unofficial leader is the tipster’s twin brother, Eli Sunday (Dano), a fundamentalist preacher who manipulates fire and brimstone for personal gain much the same way Plainview uses oil.

Daniel and Eli recognize their similarities and despise each other for them, touching off a battle of wills in which both men plumb the depths of their own shamelessness to achieve their fortunes.

“There Will Be Blood” is visually stunning.  From the filthy muck of a well bottom to the velvety oil oozing from the parched earth to the vast desert landscape, cinematographer Robert Elswit captures the grueling early days of the American oil business.

The soundtrack, by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, adds an audio texture to Elswit’s images with tribal beats, menacing pizzicato and rapid crescendos that scream like air-raid sirens.

Never one to take a role lightly, Daniel Day-Lewis’s transformation from a self-made oilman into an unscrupulous misanthrope is so complete that watching him is both awe-inspiring and disturbing.  Despite Mr. Lewis’ commanding presence, however, Paul Dano (“Little Miss Sunshine”) more than holds his own as a preacher infected by worldly desires.

Whether it is viewed as an exploration of how greed corrupts the soul, an allegory about the influences of religion and capitalism on society and on each other, or just a gripping, epic tale, “There Will Be Blood” has solidified Paul Thomas Anderson’s status as one of Hollywood’s true auteurs.




**Click arrows in bottom-right corner for full-screen viewing and captions


(This photo slideshow can be found on Tabla Mediterranean Bistro’s Web site)

**Click arrows in bottom-right corner for full-screen viewing and captions


(This photo slideshow can be found on Belle Pente Vineyard and Winery’s Web site.)


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